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Four Cognitive Skills for Successful Learning 
ByEdMo   posted on01 Sep, 12 1619 Views 0 Comments Teaching and learning Add to favorite

The word “cognition” is defined as “the act of knowing” or “knowledge.” Cognitive skills therefore refer to those skills that make it possible for us to know.

It should be noted that there is nothing that any human being knows, or can do, that he has not learned. This of course excludes natural body functions, such as breathing, as well as the reflexes, for example, the involuntary closing of the eye when an object approaches it. But apart from that a human being knows nothing, or cannot do anything, that he has not learned. Therefore, all cognitive skills must be taught, of which the following cognitive skills are the most important:

Concentration



Paying attention must be distinguished from concentration. Paying attention is a body function, and therefore does not need to be taught. However, paying attention as such is a function that is quite useless for the act of learning, because it is only a fleeting occurrence. Attention usually shifts very quickly from one object or one thing to the next. The child must first be taught to focus his attention on something and to keep his attention focused on this something for some length of time. When a person focuses his attention for any length of time, we refer to it as concentration.

Concentration rests on two legs. First, it is an act of will and cannot take place automatically. Second, it is also a cognitive skill, and therefore has to be taught.

Although learning disability specialists acknowledge that “the ability to concentrate and attend to a task for a prolonged period of time is essential for the student to receive necessary information and complete certain academic activities,” it seems that the ability to concentrate is regarded as a “fafrotsky” — a word coined by Ivan T. Sanderson, and standing for “Things that FAll FROm The SKY.” Concentration must be taught, after which one’s proficiency can be constantly improved by regular and sustained practice.

Perception



The terms “processing” and “perception” are often used interchangeably.

Before one can learn anything, perception must take place, i.e. one has to become aware of it through one of the senses. Usually one has to hear or see it. Subsequently one has to interpret whatever one has seen or heard. In essence then, perception means interpretation. Of course, lack of experience may cause a person to misinterpret what he has seen or heard. In other words, perception represents our apprehension of a present situation in terms of our past experiences, or, as stated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): “We see things not as they are but as we are.”

The following situation will illustrate how perception correlates with previous experience:

Suppose a person parked his car and walks away from it while continuing to look back at it. As he goes further and further away from his car, it will appear to him as if his car is gradually getting smaller and smaller. In such a situation none of us, however, would gasp in horror and cry out, “My car is shrinking!” Although the sensory perception is that the car is shrinking rapidly, we do not interpret that the car is changing size. Through past experiences we have learned that objects do not grow or shrink as we walk toward or away from them. You have learned that their actual size remains constant, despite the illusion. Even when one is five blocks away from one’s car and it seems no larger than one’s fingernail, one would interpret it as that it is still one’s car and that it hasn’t actually changed size. This learned perception is known as size constancy.

Pygmies, however, who live deep in the rain forests of tropical Africa, are not often exposed to wide vistas and distant horizons, and therefore do not have sufficient opportunities to learn size constancy. One Pygmy, removed from his usual environment, was convinced he was seeing a swarm of insects when he was actually looking at a herd of buffalo at a great distance. When driven toward the animals he was frightened to see the insects “grow” into buffalo and was sure that some form of witchcraft had been at work.

A person needs to interpret sensory phenomena, and this can only be done on the basis of past experience of the same, similar or related phenomena. Perceptual ability, therefore, heavily depends upon the amount of perceptual practice and experience that the subject has already enjoyed. This implies that perception is a cognitive skill that can be improved tremendously through judicious practice and experience.

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